Less Water for More Life

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It is no secret that the Rio Grande Valley is often dry for extended periods of time. When it does rain, it can be anything from a hurricane to a soft drizzle — with lots of year-to-year variation in annual rainfall. Regardless of how much rain we get in a given year, we know that water has and will continue to be one of our most important resources.

Falcon Reservoir is at 16.6% capacity, according to Water Data for Texas as of Sept. 21, 2022. Just over a month prior, the reservoir was at its lowest points ever at 9% capacity — the culmination of an ongoing and historic drought in Texas and northern Mexico. And while recent rains have helped the situation – September is on average our rainiest month of the year – the reality is that the necessity of water conservation is not going away. If anything, the need is only going to become even more important in the face of growing populations and predictions of a drying climate going forward.

The good news is we have a great opportunity to reduce our water use in towns and cities.

That opportunity comes in the form of expanses of green grass, blades shorn every other week – our lawns. The Texas Water Development Board shows that roughly 27% of statewide water use comes from the municipal sector and that it is expected to grow to 38% by 2060. Of that water use, roughly half of it – 46.6%, according to a paper in the Texas Water Journal – goes towards irrigation for areas that are mostly covered by grass: lawns, parks, golf courses, cemeteries, rights-of-way. At the same time, ecological research tells us that those lawns, which also take effort and expenses to maintain, do not provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.

The chance to create a positive change for people and wildlife is clear. The question is if we are willing to do it. Will we use less water in exchange for more life?

Ways to Reduce Urban Landscaping Water Use

Water less frequently. Most lawns do not require daily, or even weekly, watering. Instead of following a rigid schedule, only water when grass shows persistent signs of drought stress. A side benefit of less watering is that you will not have to mow your lawn as often either!

Replace lawn with drought-resistant native plants. There are over 1,200 species of plant growing in the wild in the RGV, and many of them are able to survive and even thrive on much less water than traditional landscaping plants. They also have the side benefit of helping to support pollinators, birds, and other wildlife in our cities.

Use compost and mulch. Soils with more organic matter retain moisture longer, and a thick layer of mulch also helps keep soil moisture from evaporating. Mulch also helps prevent weed invasions and eventually breaks down into healthy soil. You can use a variety of materials for mulch, from as simple as leaves from your yard to wood chips. Make sure to use at least three inches of mulch for the best results in weed suppression and water retention.

John Brush
Quinta Mazatlán